The Telegraph FEBRUARY 12, 2009 - by Neil McCormick


The U2 countdown has begun. This week my copy of the new album, No Line On The Horizon, finally arrived. I have heard it in gestation and studio playbacks but now I have it in my hands.

I have to say it is a bit of a holy relic to me. We go back such a long way, when a new U2 album comes in I am almost afraid to play it. I want to savour the moment, to be able to concentrate and extract every last bit of pleasure. It takes me back to my inner teenager, the almost holy veneration in which I held rock and roll, the sense that each new album by one of my personal favourites (whether it was The Jam or Bob Dylan) was like a love letter straight to the heart.

When I really got into The Beatles (five years after they broke up), I bought the albums in chronological order, and made sure I had wrung every bit of musical pleasure from them before I would allow myself to invest in the next on the list. But when I finally had sucked the marrow from Abbey Road and reached Let It Be, I couldn't actually allow myself to buy it for years, because I knew when I was done with it, it was all over. That, of course, was before they started digging through the wreckage to produce volume after volume of outtakes and discards, which I have consumed just as avidly.

With U2, the work is ongoing and not finite but it does mean that, like everyone else, I have to wait til they get around to unveiling their new opus (although privileged access means I don't have to wait quite as long as most of their fans). I was talking to Bono about this very subject once, and he said, "Records was always a good name because it is a record (of what we have been doing). Album has connotations of family and in our case perhaps that's not a bad thing. You know what they're like? They're like those letters you write to Santa and then you set fire to them and let the smoke go up the chimney carrying the message. Did you have that? Only in this case, its more like you throw yourself on the fire."

Anyway, before fellow fans get too excited, I can't review the new U2 album yet (there's an embargo until next Monday). But I can tell you that I have been talking to other early recipients of the record on my travels, and the enthusiasm for it is mighty. The Captain, who was U2's original A&R man at Island, thinks it is their best ever (a notion which I know Bono shares). The editor of another music magazine, who has never had a good word to say about U2, confessed that he had been constantly listening to and really enjoying the new album. And on my way through the centre of London yesterday, I bumped into John Wilson, one of the presenters of Radio 4's Front Row programme. He told me he had just interviewed the band for a special to be broadcast in a couple of weeks, and had also sat in on some rehearsals, where he said the new single Get On Your Boots was transforming into something punkier and even more immediate. He speculated that the "into the sound" motif that Bono sings (and that recurs elsewhere on the album) was a reference to the revisiting of classic U2 sonic territory, from the great stretch of War, The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. John had put that to Bono, who a bit put out, protesting that U2 always like to go forward, not backwards. Nevertheless Bono was open minded enough to countenance the notion that this may have been a subconscious acknowledgement of a journey deep into U2's sound. I can tell you there is a song on the album called Breathe, which I absolutely love, which Brian Eno thinks may be the "most U2 song" they have ever recorded. That is going to be an absolute anthem at future gigs.

And now I better zip it up before Bono asks for his record back. We shall return to this on Monday.